Wednesday, 3 September 2014

IWSG - Sometimes Words Fail Me

I've rejoined the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for founding and hosting it.

As someone who spends most of their life submerged in words, it always surprises me how sometimes, I just can’t find the right ones. Small talk stumps me; once we’ve discussed the weather I struggle. I cling feebly to any personal snippet I can find out about the person, and I try to base a conversation around that, but sometimes it ends up falling flat on its face too. Cue awkward silence. Or painful small talk that is so blatantly small talk that it’s not worth the breath I use to utter it.
                ‘That car is a nice shade of green.’
                ‘Quiet in here, isn’t it?’
                I am interested in other people. I like finding out about their lives, for the selfish reason that they may offer me something I can give to a character in my writing. A trait, an interesting profession, an anecdote involving a mother-in-law and a pair of false teeth in a small wooden coffin. There is no doubt in my mind that the truth is stranger – yet always more plausible – than fiction.
                But I am not a natural conversationalist. Being introverted means that it’s something I have to work at. Even conversations with people I know well are sometimes trying. I only have so much mental energy, and when it runs out, it runs out. I shut down. Conversation has to end and I need to remove myself from the situation and be somewhere alone to recharge. I’m surprised at how common a need this is. I often assumed that I was a bit odd – and maybe I am but that’s for another day – but from what I’ve read this is an introvert trait, so often when I am feeling the need to wrap up the small talk and curl up alone with a notepad and pen, there’s a high possibility that the other person is wishing I would cut the crap and go away. Good to know.

And of course, being a writer means that the written word rarely comes easily. I am not a professional writer but I still define myself by that term. I wonder sometimes though, if it puts too much pressure on me. I am a writer, I must write. But if I accepted that writing was simply a hobby maybe I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. I never tell myself, I am a knitter, I must knit. Joking aside, I do want to get started with knitting again not least because I have two unfinished projects to complete, but I never put myself under the same pressure. I also have two unfinished novels, but unlike the abandoned knitting, these novels weigh heavily on me. I feel them every time I write anything. I feel them any time I work on something that isn’t them. I feel them right now. Despite the fact I gave myself express permission to mothball them for 2014 and work on short stories. Which I’ve done. I’ve written and submitted more short stories this year than I’ve done in the last 33 years put together. I am a writer. I am writing. But still it never feels like enough.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

11 Things

I've seen these blog nomination/award things doing the rounds before, but I've never been nominated until now! How exciting is this - thank you Elise :)

So here are the rules, for those who haven't already done it:

  • Share 11 facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions set by the nominator
  • Link back to the person who nominated you
  • Make up 11 questions to ask your nominees (5-11 nominees with 200 or less followers)
  • Tell them they're nominated!

Anyway, here goes...

11 Facts About Me
  1. I'm quite spiritual; I meditate, carry crystals and do Angel Card readings. This surprises a lot of people because I don't look like your average, stereotypical spiritual-type
  2. I have a phobia of swimming pools stemming from jumping into a pool for the first time at three-years-old and pretty much swallowing half the pool. This means I can't swim, which makes me sad as I live metres away from one of the best surfing beaches in the world, and I'd love to surf
  3. I have chronic rhinitis and can out-snot/out-sneeze pretty much everyone I know
  4. I love dinosaurs so much that when I see something with a dinosaur on it, I point and shout like an over-excited child
  5. I have one younger sister, who has learning difficulties. She is stubborn and selfish, hilarious and gregarious. Out of everyone I've ever met, she's taught me the most, both about life and about myself
  6. I hate decorating so much that when the time comes to decorate this house, I'd rather sell it and buy a new one
  7. I currently have no intentions of having children but I love looking at tiny baby clothes in shops. They're just so small!!
  8. Following on from number 7, I am accepting of the fact that I will probably never be a mother, because its my choice, but one of the things in life that makes me the most sad is that I will never be a biological aunt
  9. I swear like an absolute trooper. If you're offended by bad language, I recommend that you don't spend time with me
  10. I love reading about quantum physics and nutrition/health
  11. Most of my favourite foods begin with C - cheese, chips, crisps, chocolate, cake, cookies, cream

And here are the answers to Elise's questions...

How did you get to your current job and do you love it?
I did love my job but I think I need a new challenge now so I don't love it as much as I did! After I left University I came back to this small piddly town which has very few employment opportunities, and was lucky to get a clerical job with the local Council. I then moved to a finance position for a few years. A job in the waste department was advertised and as I wanted an eco-related job I thought it was perfect but they wanted someone with a waste management degree. I applied anyway and was surprised to get the job - the fact I'd had so many year's local government experience, and the fact I impressed them with the presentation I'd prepared for the interview, was enough to get me the job!

Your most worn item of clothing
God, I have a few of these. Probably my black Rocket Dog Crayon biker boots. I love them. They've been reheeled about six times but now the sole is split so I doubt they'll last the winter :(

Favourite Song From Childhood
Anything from The Cars Greatest Hits. Bit of an odd choice, but my Dad played this to death. I remember coming home from school and hearing it blaring through the house. I know all the songs by heart and every time I hear any of them it reminds me of my Dad.

What's on your 'To Read' pile?
A LOAD of books! In particular I want to re-read all the Game of Thrones books again, one after the other. Think there's one more still to come out so I might aswell wait. Also '11.22.63' by Stephen King, 'The Year of the Rat' by Clare Furniss, 'The Paying Guests' by Sarah Water and 'Bend Not Break: A Life In Two Worlds' by Ping Fu.

The best movie you've seen this year (new or old)
I don't watch a lot of movies and I can't remember what I've seen this year! I'm bound to have watched something by Studio Ghibli though - I'll say 'From Up On Poppy Hill' because I know I watched it. I pretty much love all SG films. If I had children, they'd be watching these and not any of that Disney pish, I can tell you that.

What advice would you give your teenage self?
Life gets better, but at the same time it will never be as carefree as it is right now, so make the most of it. And stop trying so hard to be different. You already are different - pretending you don't give a shit about stuff that really you care about, is just twattish. Stop it.

A skill/talent you wish you had
I wish I could swim and surf (see above) and I also wish I could sing or be a bit more musical.

Show us the oldest picture on your phone
I have no idea...

Current food obsession
Salad consisting of whatever salad veg is in the fridge, topped with sliced goats cheese, pine nuts and sliced peaches, drizzled with olive oil & basalmic vinegar. Salads bore the hell out of me, I've struggled to find a combination I really enjoy, but I had this for 3 lunches last week and I'm still loving it.

Beach or countryside?
No! Don't make me pick between these. If pushed, I think I'd pick beach. Yeah, beach. Because living by the sea is more important to me than living in the countryside.

The best cinema you've ever been to
I haven't been to a lot of cinemas so I'm going to turn this around and write about the worst. We have a cinema in town, its the only one north of Inverness (which is 120 miles away) so it has a big catchment area. It's really good as far as cinemas go, but a few years ago it was under different management and was so shit that it went bankrupt despite the fact there was no other cinema for anyone to go to. It always smelled really bad inside, a mix of sewage and cat food - never figured that one out. The new owners are raking the money in, I have no idea how the last lot cocked up so badly.

My nominations...

Now, this leaves me in a bit of a quandry because most of my regular readers have already been nominated. So I'm going to be lazy and nominate ANYONE WHO READS THIS AND HASN'T ALREADY DONE IT. 

And my questions are...
  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. Best book you've ever read
  3. If you could have a dinner party with any 4 people (alive or dead, real or ficional) who would they be and why?
  4. If you could have any 2 liquids come out of your nipples, what would they be and why?
  5. Who inspires you?
  6. Restaurant, take-away or home cooking?
  7. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
  8. If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
  9. Are you a planner or are you spontaneous?
  10. What do you do to relax?
  11. Share some good advice with me!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

August Reading

I first heard about Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo on a Radio 4 show. I wasn't sure if it would be my sort of thing but it really was amazing. It's a factual account of life in a Mumbai slum over 3 years but the prose is wonderful and it reads like a novel. It follows various characters - Abdul, a hard-working teenage Muslim making money from collecting recycling that rich folk toss away without a second thought, but whose family is accused of a hideous crime; Fatima, a one-legged prostitute who sets herself on fire over an arguement; Asha, an intelligent and determined woman who aims to leave the slums behind with a mix of corruption and power; Manju who wants to become the slum's first female graduate; Sunil, a cunning and enterprising teenage scavenger/thief. Slumdog Millionaire it aint, despite the inevitable comparisons. Funny, sad, depressing, frustrating, eye-opening, shocking. It took me a while to get into, and the narrative style won't be to everyone's taste, but once I started getting involved in the characters, I couldn't put it down.

I have no idea how/why The White Cuckoo by Annie Ireson was on my Kindle, I suspect I dowloaded it at some point because it was cheap/free. Although to be fair it wasn't a bad read. Tammy has gone to her parents' home village after the death of her mother, to track down her half-sister that she never knew existed. There are a few 'family secret' style twists and turns, along with a paranormal theme. It wasn't bad but I felt it could have done with slicker editing, and the romance between Tammy and Paul felt contrived and a bit naff. It's a debut novel though, and I would read something by Annie Ireson again. A good idea but perhaps not executed as well as it could have been.

I loved The Missing One by Lucy Atkins. Kali heads to a remote British Columbian island after discovering some postcards in her late mother's studio, to meet a woman named Susannah who may hold the answers to Kali's mother's secret past. But as the weather grows wilder and Susannah's behaviour grows more erratic, Kali begins to fear for the safety of herself and her toddler son Finn, as she tries to uncover just what Susannah is hiding. A great psychological thriller that kept me guessing, and as an aside, the detail about British Columbia and the orcas was pretty interesting too.

I came across Tandem by Alex Morgan on a list of Scottish writers to look out for. It's the story of Paula, a young woman who runs away from London to Scotland to escape her life. Paula's past is slowly revealed, which kept me reading, as did the enigmatic young twins Sanders and Sandra who decide to befriend Paula. It's an interesting story about love, grief, loss, gender and identity, but it doesn't get too heavy and has some genuinely funny moments. Loved this one.

I've read most of Lisa Jewell's books and I love how she's evolved from bordering on 'chick lit' to writing pretty serious books about heavy subjects. Sadly, I didn't think The Third Wife was one of her best. Adrian's third wife, Maya, stumbles in front of a bus and is killed. Adrian wonders if it was suicide, although he can't see why as he and Maya were happy and she got along well with his two previous wives and his five children. But as he uncovers more about her final days, it turns out that she had some secrets, however so did some other members of his family, and those secrets are about to come to light. It was well written, although the ending wasn't great, but parts of the story felt unrealistic. Personally, I couldn't understand why Maya put up with Adrian and all his baggage, so that part of it was hard for me to swallow.

If there's ever a book I wish I could un-read, its Sweet Poison by David Gillespie. I've always had a hunch that sugar, not fat, is the reason most folk are overweight but this book takes things further and presents evidence that fructose is responsible for so many current health problems that the health professional and Governments blame on fat, because the sugar/low fat/pharmaceutical industries are such big earners. A lot of it I already knew, such as the fact that sugar is more or less in everything, but it was interesting to learn why fructose in particular is a problem, and how our body treats it differently to other sugars. The bottom line is, its poisoning us. I'm obsessed with nutritional theories and like all others I've read, I'm not getting carried away - I'm not suddenly refusing to eat anything with fructuse in it, but its really made me think. It's a chilling read, and I highly recommend it, but be warned - you'll never look at a doughnut in the same light again. (on the plus side, beer and wine are OK because they contain maltose, not fructose. Hurrah!)

The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcolm Kendrick is in a simliar vein as the above, but focuses on the common diet-heart hypothesis which 'proves' that high cholesterol causes heart disease - basically this book disproves the theory and concludes that its a load of bollocks. Again, an interesting and chilling read - although not an easy read. Sometimes the science bamboozled me a bit, and other times the writer's comedic style grated. I guess it was hard for him to get the balance right, but still its an eye-opening book that debunks many myths, including the theory of 'good and bad' chloresterols and the idea that statins actually help. Is it scaremongering? If it is, its no worse than the scaremongering done by the pharmaceutical companies who tell us that we should aspire to low cholesterol, but who don't tell us that can kill us too. Worth a read for anyone, but moreso for anyone on statins, so that they can make up their own mind.

Any good reads this month? Have you read any of the above?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Postcards of the SEA

I loved this recent local art exhibition to raise funds for Brough Bay Association and Castlehill Heritage Scoiety. On hindsight, I wish I'd actually entered a postcard into the exhibition, but still, I played my part by going along and taking a look, then bidding on some of the postcards in the silent auction.

The quality of the art was astounding; there were some amazing pictures done in all sorts of different mediums. Watercolours, photographs, acrylics, drawings, name it, it was probably in there. There were entries from nearly every walk of life; from very young children to professional artists, and from loads of different countries. Taking a look through the blog gives a taste of some of the pictures, but seeing them all displayed together was amazing, especially as the sea is one my favourite subjects ever. 

The silent auction was exciting because I'd never bid in one before. It was hard to choose favourites - in the end I more or less picked five at random and placed (very small) bids on them. I think the most I bid was £11 for one, but one of the most expensive postcards ended up selling for over £100! Anyway, I was delighted to win one in the auction, this one (also pictured above, waiting patiently while I decide where to hang it) for £8.

It was a great concept and a wonderful way to raise money for a local worthy cause. And I won something! Which is always a bonus.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A couple of new house guests

(Please excuse the very shoddy phone photo - I'm off to Glasgow for a couple of days so I'm rushing to put a couple of scheduled posts together).

I'm a pet owner again! Meet Nesume and Yuuri - two female pet rats I adopted from someone who needed to give them up. Both female, around a year and a half, we think.

Nesume is the fawn and white one, the friendlier of the two. She's happy to run around the couch and explore, climbing all over us or sleeping in our pockets. She also has a habit of using me as a toilet - she never does it on Adam, always me. Which is a bit odd. 

Yuuri is a bit more difficult. Initially we couldn't get near her whereas now I can get her to sit on my shoulder and can sometimes stroke her when she's in the cage, but she isn't keen on being handled. She's going to take a lot more work, but we'll get there. Apparently they were both handled by their last owner, so I'm not sure why Yuuri is the way she is. The previous owners had three young children, so I'm not sure if maybe something happened with them that's made her wary of people. I guess if Nesume was easier to get to, perhaps they worked more with her, I don't know.

As for the names, they were Bubble and Squeak when we got them, but we decided to change them. Adam chose them. Nesume is Japanese for rat, Yuuri is Japanese for ghost. He's obsessed with all things Japanese. Personally, I wanted to call them Pumpkin and Peapod but I was shot down in flames (I still call them that when he's not around though....)

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Some ramblings on introverts and online friendships


I am very much an introvert, and I loved this article that my friend recently sent me a link to.

Now, I'm not a secret introvert as suggested by the article, I'm a loud and proud introvert (contradiction intended). I spent most of my younger years assuming I was shy and wondering why I acted weird in groups, or when I was with people I didn't know. I recall having to sit beside a girl in History class, who bitched to others that I would never speak to her, but I couldn't. I absolutely couldn't and I didn't understand why. I now know it was simply because I can't do small talk. I've got better over the years but even now, it wears me out. The other thing that used to bug me was that I had a large group of friends but I barely spoke when I was with them. Yet when it was just me and one or two of them, I was fine. I just can't handle a group. End of. This has never changed; I can stand up in front of 70 people and talk about recycling with just a flutter of nerves, yet I dread my monthly team meetings. There's only seven of us in the team.

The article did surprise me though, as there are things I do that I didn't necessarily put down to being an introvert. I'm a writer, and I'm definitely a more succinct writer than speaker. I screen all calls; its rare I ever answer my mobile, I tend to leave it them gather the mental energy to call the person back. I definitely shut down if I've been active or with people too long - I feel I need to be alone and to recharge - and I get distracted very easily. If there's too much going on, be it at work or at home, I get overwhelmed.

As I said, I always assumed I was shy but being an introvert and being shy don't go hand in hand, as extroverts can be shy too. I can confidently talk to people, its just taken longer for me to develop that skill. On the plus side, it means that I only have 'good quality' people in my life. By that, I mean that if a friendship is going nowhere, or if I don't click with someone, I let the relationship die a natural death. I don't force myself on folk and I don't let them force themselves on me. I simply can't afford to waste mental energy on anyone who isn't worth it. OK, this probably makes me sound like a bit of an arse, but it makes sense to me. People always know where they stand. I won't pretend to be their friend then bitch about them behind their back. We're either friends or we're not. And those who I class as close friends (there aren't many) are worth their weight in gold to me.

I guess a lot of bloggers are introverts. Blogging (or any kind of online interaction) is a great way of communicating with like-minded folk but without using up the mental energy of having a conversation. It's done in our own time, at our own pace and if we decide we're not clicking with someone, we just stop following their blog. I do believe that genuine friendships can be created online, and I don't think its necessary to meet someone in real life in order to class them as a friend. There was a time where I wouldn't have agreed with this, whereas now, I know from experience that it's possible.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What about online friendships - are we 'friends' or just 'people who know each other online'?

Monday, 11 August 2014

What running on the beach in the morning has taught me about life

I used to love an early morning run on the beach. Two years ago I lived a ten-minute (if that) drive away from a long, sandy and secluded rural beach which I would run on at least three times a week. I now live less than a minute from a small, much less rural sandy beach and until recently I hadn't run on it once.

Now, I just want to make something clear. I am not a fan of 'running'. I am a fan of 'running by the shore' or 'running on the beach'. Therefore I either run on the beach or I don't run at all. The reason I'd never taken to running here is because I suspected the beach would be busier, given that its in the town, and as its such a smaller beach, I wouldn't have as much space to myself.

But one morning, after months of putting it off, I bit the bullet and I ran. It was amazing. The beach was vast, windy, open, cold, alive. And for most of the time I was by myself. As I did my second length I noticed a woman come down to the beach with a bucket. I said a breathless hello as I jogged past, trying to pretend I wasn't about to keel over due to having not run for over a year (especially seeing as I recognised her as a PE teacher from my High School days, now retired) but never took much note until I stopped farther along the beach and looked back. I could see her walking about, looking as if she was picking things up, but again I didn't take a huge amount of notice. I was too busy taking in the gentle swell of the tide as it eased further up the beach, and the seabirds pottering around on the shoreline.

A few days later, I found out via chance conversation that this woman comes down to the beach every morning and clears up all the litter from the day before, be it deposited by visitors or by the tide. How bloody awesome is that?!

It's really made me think. To be fair, the beach is a clean one, and its pretty much free from litter; now I know why. Also, I felt that morning that the beach was mine. But this has made me realise that at this time of the day, the beach is hers. Very much so. It's such a selfless thing to do. I don't know what motivates her but I'd love to find out, and I admire her for it. In this day and age life can be so devoid of purpose, yet it's small, quiet gestures like this that can mean the most - not to everyone else using the beach, but to her. Knowing that she's contributing to society every single day, in her own way.

I'm heavily involved in litter and environmental issues anyway, but this woman's actions have inspired me even further. I never drop litter myself but unless I'm on an organised pick, I tend to walk past any. But now, if I see an abandoned juice can or sandwich wrapper, I'll pick it up and put it in the nearest bin. And when I do so,  I think about this woman and offer her a silent thanks for giving a shit when many others don't. Through me, and any others who do the same, she's managing to keep the town clean without even being there. 

I'd love to be as inspirational as that some day. And one morning, when the beach is hers, I intend to tell her this.